It’s Not Rocket Surgery: Pillow

Weird and unexpected things can happen while we snooze
Illustration by VectorMoon / iStock / Getty Images Plus

I was sitting outside a small café in Paris, having a friendly chat with a couple I had just met. I recall that it was a crisp, sunny afternoon as I sipped my espresso. Without warning, a guy I had never met came up behind me and started smacking me around with a day-old baguette. I woke up.

I’m in the midst of a grand experiment. I’m trying to learn French while I sleep. Seriously, I am. I’ve actually thought about doing this for some time, but when I recently saw a video on YouTube titled “Learn French While You Sleep,” it seemed that it matched up pretty well with my idea.

So, I began doing the type of analytical research you should do before introducing a potentially dynamic influence to your brain. I Googled it. I learned that in a study by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, scientists were able to condition subjects to associate smells with certain sounds even when they were asleep.

The researchers concluded, “This acquired behavior persisted throughout the night and into ensuing wakefulness, without later awareness of the learning process. Thus, humans learned information during sleep.”

Hey, then why not French?

So, I bought myself a set of pillow speakers — yes, they make them, little speakers that plug into your tape recorder and broadcast only to you through your oreiller. (Sorry, these French words pop into my head without warning.)

Next, I set out to find the best French tutorial on tape. I found one with just individual words directly translated.

The guy on the tape says the English word, then follows with the same word in French. Nothing else, just straight word to word. After a few nights, my concern began to grow that my brain might not get the sequence.

The guy on the tape says “angel,” then “l’ange.” The next word is “aardvark.” Since I’m sleeping, I don’t know when my brain kicks in.

What if my brain is hearing the French word first? Now, I’m in France telling some guy his wife looks like an aardvark.

I started looking for a tape that was more conversational, something that had a bit more relevance, like I needed la toilette. (Sorry, I can’t help it.)

I found a book on tape with a couple who simply chat with each other, first in English, and then the same conversation in French.

The lessons are designed to give the listener a more rhythmic approach to grasping a new language. So, a couple of weeks ago, I shifted to this approach.

The problem is that I have started dreaming about this couple. I’m pretty sure some French words are getting through, but I find myself deeply invested in these two.

I was in a meeting yesterday and found myself wondering what they were up to today.

Good Lord, my awake brain has me eavesdropping on two people who don’t even exist because my sleeping brain is an imaginaire harceleur!     

I’m not giving up. This brain intrusion isn’t leading me to turn French, although the dream attacker came at me with the baguette and I did immediately surrender.

I’m going to find a tutorial somewhere between the minimalist approach of simple one-word repetition and moving in with Marie and Claude Bonaparte.

I’m still convinced there is some merit to this approach. Either way, it seems harmless. It’s not like I’m trying to learn how to install a gas oven while I’m sleeping.

So if you run into me and I drop a little fumier de cheval on you, you’ll know I found it in my sleep.  


Gary Yordon is president of the Zachary Group in Tallahassee, hosts a political television show, “The Usual Suspects,” and contributes columns to the city’s daily newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat.

He may be reached at

Categories: Opinion